Discontinued brian volk weiss interview
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‘Discontinued’ Director Explains Why Failure Is the Focus of His New Series

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Brian Volk-Weiss, the guy behind 'The Toys That Made Us,' breaks down his brand-new, Bruce Campbell-hosted documentary series.Brian Volk-Weiss, the guy behind 'The Toys That Made Us,' breaks down his brand-new, Bruce Campbell-hosted documentary series.

THE BIG PICTURE

  •  Discontinued explores the fascinating world of failed products and businesses, offering a humorous and nostalgic look at their downfall.
  •  The show’s creator, Brian Volk-Weiss, had been trying to bring Discontinued to life for years, and finally found a home for it on Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Channel.
  •  Hosted by the iconic Bruce Campbell, Discontinued takes a unique approach by featuring a host and setting the show in the year 2037, avoiding the feel of a typical clip show and adding a creative element to the format.

No matter what your pop-culture obsession is, there’s a good chance a documentary series somewhere is doing a deep dive into it. Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us examines some of our most popular toy lines, while its sister show, The Movies That Made Us, tackles our biggest movie blockbusters. Disney’s Behind the Attraction looks at Disney’s historic theme-park rides, while Vice TV’s Icons Unearthed delves into our longest-running franchises. What may surprise you, however, is that all of these shows come from the same guy — writer, director, and producer Brian Volk-Weiss.

And just last week, Volk-Weiss and his production house, The Nacelle Company, launched their latest pop-culture documentary, Discontinued, which arrives with its own unique twist. Discontinued‘s 10-episode first season looks back at products, businesses, and other enterprises that may have started off strong but eventually faded from the public’s consciousness. Hosted by B-movie legend Bruce Campbell and streaming Wednesday nights on Ryan Reynolds‘ Maximum Effort Channel on Fubo, Discontinued puts the focus on failure, as it tries to find out what went wrong with everything from the Furby to Blockbuster Video to Disney’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel.

In this one-on-one interview with Collider, Wolk-Veiss discusses the long road Discontinued took from idea to production, why Campbell was their first choice as host, and how they drew inspiration from Mystery Science Theater 3000 when making the show. He also drops a few hints about the future of The Toys/The Movies That Made Us franchise and offers a peek at what else The Nacelle Company’s currently got cooking.

COLLIDER: Can you take me through the genesis of Discontinued? What was the original spark of an idea for it, and how did that lead to the series you ended up making?

VOLK-WEISS: It’s funny. It’s probably not going to be the answer anybody would expect. Before I say this — I am an optimist. I’m definitely, at the very least, a realist leaning towards optimism. I am the opposite of a pessimist. But I have always been fascinated by the topic of failure. I find failure so interesting. If you watch any of the shows that I’ve created and/or directed from The Toys That Made Us to Behind the Attraction — yes, they’re about success. But a lot of those shows are also about failure. Discontinued is the first show that I’ve ever been able to do that really is a complete microscope on the failure. So, all these products — some go up and go down over 20 years. Some go up and go down over five months. But what they all have in common is they failed, and they had to be discontinued.

And, by the way, I had this idea about 10 years ago. I have been trying to get this show made maybe even longer than The Toys That Made Us. I came close to selling it a million times. I have always loved this idea because, like I said, The Toys That Made Us… Star Wars [toys were a] huge success. But we talk a lot about the failures all around it, which eventually included Kenner. So [Discontinued] is the opposite, where it really is a hopefully humorous look at products that either never ever should have been made in the first place… which, in and of itself, I find to be very funny. Because, especially with mass products, there are sometimes hundreds of people involved, from the idea to the delivery to the store, and for all of them to be wrong is very interesting to me. And then other things, for example, the Blackberry… how does this company with a 15-year head start get knocked out of business in three years by the iPhone? So I find both of those things interesting, and this show finally allowed me to scratch that itch.

Discontinued is streaming on the Maximum Effort Channel, which is Ryan Reynolds’ company’s channel on Fubo. When did you hook up with them as part of the process of making this show?

VOLK-WEISS: I got very lucky. There is no more clichéd Hollywood story than what I’m about to tell you. I do a bunch of business with The Rock’s company, Seven Bucks. There was an executive there who I had a phenomenal relationship with. He went over to Maximum Effort. He now was at a new company with new priorities, and he called me up — swear to god! — because I had pitched him Discontinued when he was at the other company. And I was like, “Dude, what about Discontinued? I love that idea. I never could stop thinking about it.” He’s like, “Is it still available?” And I’m like, “Yeah!” And he’s like, “Can we do it together?” And I’m like, “Yeah! I’ve been trying to do this for almost a decade.”

It really was that simple. That’s how the whole thing came together. And it changed everything. And I don’t just mean we got to make the show. The humor that Maximum Effort — that Ryan and his team — brought to the show… I would say, from my initial idea to what we ended up making, I think my idea might have been like a C-minus, maybe a C if I’m lucky. And with Maximum Effort it became — and I’m the most biased person on earth, don’t think I’m not self-aware — but I think it’s now an A-plus. The difference was Maximum Effort and their notes, to be completely blunt. The worst notes you can get are broad, like, “Oh, make it darker and bigger.” Like… what?! But we got the greatest notes. I’ve never seen better notes than what we got for Discontinued from those guys. They were suggesting jokes! Normally it’s like, “Oh, that’s not funny.” They would be like, “That’s not funny. Here’s five better ideas. What do you like?” I’ll be like, “I’ll take number three.” I’ve never had anything like it.

Bruce campbell discontinued

You’ve done somewhat similar shows before without an on-air host. When did you realize that having a host made sense for this show? And at what point did you start thinking about Bruce Campbell?

VOLK-WEISS: The idea that this needed a host was from the very beginning. The way we make shows and do all of this is we make a sales tape. These days, I should probably stop saying “sales tape.” We basically make a mini-pilot. From the get-go with this show, we always had a host. The original tape that we made — bare minimum seven years ago, it might even be 10 years ago — that tape had a host. And the reason why I felt this show always needed a host was because, unlike a lot of the other things we do, this show was scattered all over the decades, and we needed something to unify it. How is a product from the ’60s in the same show with a product from 2010? So that was something I was always very concerned about, and I really thought the only way to do it would be with a host.

If you look at what we cover in The Toys and The Movies That Made UsBehind the Attraction — these are things that at least three generations are into. I played with Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. My 5-year-old is playing with Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. So we wanted a host that encapsulated that. And Bruce Campbell? Huge. I revered him when I was in the ninth grade, and I would say he’s arguably more popular and hotter today than he was when I was a kid. When I was a kid, being a geek? Not a good thing. A lot of the types of movies that he did — those weren’t considered cool. That’s when I was a kid. Now, all that stuff is like the coolest stuff you can be. I’ll be at a convention, and you’ll see someone with an Ash tattoo with his face on it. So we wanted somebody like that, and I’m about to say something. This is gonna sound like the biggest pile of crap you’ve ever heard. And I bet other people, when they say it, it usually is. But I’m telling you this is the truth: He was our first choice. I cannot believe he did it. I literally can’t believe it.

I’m glad that worked out for you guys because I’ve seen the first episode, and it just seems like a natural fit. In the show, Bruce is hosting from the future, the year 2037 to be precise. Can you tell me where that creative choice came from, and what you thought that brought to the show’s format?

VOLK-WEISS: I’ll give you the view from 40,000 feet, and then I’ll give you the view from 10 feet. The idea that I’ve had since college was… well, it’s two thoughts in conflict, and this is what we came up with as the solution. I hate clip shows, and I was very worried from the very beginning that this could be or feel like a clip show. So I wanted to do every single thing I could to make this not a clip show. That’s exhibit A. Exhibit B: I have always thought the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to be brilliant because it basically took what should have been a crappy clip show, and it turned it into a universe. Instead of it just being, “Look at these old crappy movies,” there are characters. There are relationships. There is a spaceship. There is a set. I love the premise of that show, but, if it was a clip show, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have made it through one episode. It’s because I love the characters that I kept coming back. So that’s why we did what we did.

From a creative standpoint… I remember, around the seventh or eighth grade, the whole premise of the Internet started getting closer and closer and closer, to the point where I get to college and, first week, they’re like, “Oh, you can’t register for class unless you use email.” I’m like, “What?” So, between then and today, obviously the Internet changed everything. I would not be talking to you right now without it. Nobody knows for sure, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that A.I. is not only here to stay, it will be as seismic as the Internet was, if not more so. So, I said to myself, what is something we could laugh about, theoretically, in 10 years? And I thought about this whole paranoia about how A.I. is gonna lead to the rise of the machines and Terminator and all that. I have a feeling that’s going to look pretty funny 10 years from now. So we very deliberately chose something in the zeitgeist, but we also do it very tongue-in-cheek because we think it’ll be laughed at in the future. And we’re very open about that.

That’s interesting because it kind of ties into my next question, although I came at it from a slightly different angle. Maybe I misread the show a little bit. But I was thinking that this is the first pop-culture-documentary-style show I’ve seen that sometimes takes on a noticeably ominous tone. The first episode starts with warnings about the dangers of A.I., and, later, there are some clips about a Furby that got hacked, was hooked up to ChatGPT, and starts planning the end of the world. I was curious if that was an intentional choice to give Discontinued its own identity and a bit of an edge? Although, based on what you just said, maybe you’re taking the piss out of that stuff a little more than I realized.

VOLK-WEISS: No, I don’t think you missed it at all. I think you’re dead on. We wanted to give it a darker edge. And, again, I really have to give props to Maximum Effort because, I mean… have you seen Deadpool?! That is a very dark film with a lot of jokes and humor and brilliant writing. So that’s kind of the Maximum Effort secret sauce that we were lucky enough to play with, where you have comedy with an edge. And that is what they said they wanted to do. By the way, I hope they hear what you just said and what you asked because that is exactly what they wanted and what we were lucky enough to get looped into.

One thing I find interesting is the fact you’re the man behind Disney’s Behind the Attraction, which is a very loving series about their theme-park attractions. Yet Discontinued goes pretty hard at the recently shuttered Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser during its first episode. What was it like for you, personally, to come for one of Disney’s big attractions from a completely different angle than what you’ve done in the past?

VOLK-WEISS: It was very, very difficult. You know, I’ve been on [the Starcruiser]. I haven’t done it as a customer, but I’ve been on it. I’ve been in the cafeteria area and all that stuff. And I absolutely bleed Disney. Something that is very important to me as a creator and a director is to not allow my personal bias to affect the programming we make. And this was, unfortunately, a perfect example of that. It’s an unbelievable story that I’d say, for the record, has not been fully written yet. I don’t know if it’s coming back as Starcruiser 2 or anything even related to Star Wars. It’s funny — the making of Behind the Attraction was a very interesting experience because I am such a crazy Disney fan. It was very interesting to see how the sausage got made. And my takeaway on so much of what I saw was — and I know people always hate when I say this — I don’t know how that company even makes a profit. What they spend to do what people call “magic”… staggering amounts of bleeding-edge technology. Disney is very good at learning stuff, listening to the audience, and then pivoting. That’s why I have a feeling Starcruiser will be back in some way and why we hinted at that in the episode.

You’ve mentioned The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us a few times. I know those series have done really well for Netflix. Where does that franchise stand right now? Could future installments still be coming or perhaps another spin-off? What’s the current status on those shows and that brand?

VOLK-WEISS: I can only say two things. Number one, if it was dead forever, I would tell you. Two… stay tuned.

[Laughs] Sounds great. Good enough answer.

VOLK-WEISS: Yeah, that’s all I can say. It used to just be “stay tuned.” We’ve doubled what I can say.

You’ve done a lot of these pop-culture-documentary-type shows now. Is there a facet to making them that’s more difficult than the audience might assume from just watching? What’s the toughest part that people just don’t realize or think about?

VOLK-WEISS: I’m not going to use your word “difficult” because that’s like saying to a swimmer, “God, it must suck getting wet.” The minute you decide to be a swimmer, it guarantees you will get wet. So I won’t use the word “difficult.” But to answer your question in the way I think you’re asking: What I don’t think a lot of people understand is the staggering amount of time we spend on research. Eighty-five percent of the time, when you are watching one of our shows, and you’re seeing a human being talking, that footage is the third time we have interviewed that person. We typically interview everybody twice and then do the actual [recording]. The first time is verbal. The second time we record the audio. The third time we do a good-camera, good-microphone shoot. Do we get to do that with Sigourney Weaver? No, we do not. But 85 percent. And that’s the middle step!

We do this show for Vice called Icons Unearthed. That show, we spent two years making 10 seasons. I would say, of the 24 months, 14 were spent on research and pre-production. That’s what most people don’t understand. The people telling you stuff in the pre-interviews… you need time to do more research to start connecting all the dots and find the story. We’ve had people work at the company now who literally are like, “Oh, my god, I love your shows!” And then they’ll start working with us on our latest show, and they are like, “Whoa, you guys do research!” It’s such a big thing for us, so I think that’s what would surprise most people tremendously.

As you make more and more of these pop-cult docs, do you feel compelled to really give each one its own style, its own vibe, its own unique feel? How important is that for you?

VOLK-WEISS: I have to do it because otherwise I would get bored. We work very, very hard. We spend tons of time talking about this very topic. I’m very blessed in that I’ve worked with the same editors since The Toys That Made Us. I would say about 70% of the editors that worked on Discontinued worked on Toys and/or Movies That Made Us. I’ve been very lucky to work with Ben Frost since The Toys That Made Us. He’s our lead editor on the dock side. It’s a huge thing to me that we always have something new for the audience. We will always do the comedy/drama/pathos — I call it “ice cream.” But there just has to be something different every time.

A toy store near you brian volk weiss

We’ve talked about Discontinued, The Toys That Made Us, and The Movies That Made Us. Is there anything else you and your company, The Nacelle Company, have cooking right now that you can announce or talk about that might be interesting to Collider readers?

VOLK-WEISS: Well, we just announced the premiere date of A Toy Store Near You, a show we do for Amazon. It’s all about toy stores, mom-and-pop toy stores, all over the world. So we just announced that Season 6 is coming out on December 24. A holiday present! [Laughs] That’s very conceited, but it’s kind of funny. And we have a huge announcement coming for one of our cartoons called RoboForce. So stay tuned for that. [Editor’s note: Since this interview took place, The Nacelle Company announced that Seven Bucks, Dwayne’s Johnson’s production company, would co-produce the animated series with them.] We have more seasons of Icons Unearthed coming out next year, at least four seasons next year. We have two shows with The CW I can’t talk about. I probably shouldn’t have even said that. And we’re actually doing our first crime show ever. That’s all I can tell you. But it’s a documentary about a horrible, horrible serial killer, and we’ve never done anything like that before.

I feel like what you’re really telling me is that you are staying plenty busy.

VOLK-WEISS: It’s been quite the year, my friend. It’s been quite the year.

Discontinued streams Wednesdays at 9 PM EST on the Maximum Effort Channel on Fubo. The series is also available to watch on Amazon Freevee, LG Channels, Plex, Sling Freestream, Tubi, VIDAA, VIZIO Watchfree+, and Xumo Play.